The Simple Reason Why Iran Won't Get Involved in Syria

Revolutions! Coups! Internal and multinational tension! Economic sanctions! Chemical weapons! Russian allies! Many of these terms can describe the goings-on in any number of Middle Eastern nations, but they all apply to Iran, the regional superpower. Unfortunately, Russia is playing both sides with the U.S. in one corner and Syria and Iran in the other.

Russia is the primary superpower holding the United States back from a military strike on Syria. Russia's ties to Syria are already well established by the media, but the country is also a big trading partner with Iran, Syria’s other big ally. Now, Iran is allegedly threatening to strike the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and possibly a direct strike against Israel — but not directly. Instead, Iran would order Shiite Iraqi militias to do the dirty work for it. As Syria’s main ally, Iran would protect the countries' alliance through proxy military strikes with weapons originating from Russia.

While Russia is negotiating with the U.S., it is also prepared to supply Iran with these weapons. For Obama, the most logical alternative to striking Syria would be to work out a diplomatic plan with the Russian government while ensuring Iran does not complicate an already unstable relationship.

If the U.S. were to strike Syria, Iran would likely back Syria with Russian weapons. Despite revelations of a possible diplomatic solution to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons with Russian support, Russia may already be attempting to sell a sophisticated missile defense system to the Iranian military.

This is another reason why the U.S. should not strike Syria. It would be similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Iran — and Syria by extension — would parallel Cuba while the Russians are still delivering the weapons. Instead of an embargo on Cuba, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran. There was never a full-blown military strike then and there should not be one now.

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva to discuss plans on placing Syria’s abundant chemical weapons stockpile under international control. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with the newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Kyrgyzstan on Friday to discuss restarting an arms deal that will send S-300VM missiles to Iran. This could be viewed as leverage to ensure the U.S. does not strike Syria.

Russian politician Alexei Pushkov, head of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, took a very hawkish stance on the matter: “If the war party prevails in the U.S.. . . I would consider it absolutely justified to (take) more serious measures, including increasing the supply of defensive weapons to Iran and changing the terms of our cooperation with the U.S. on Afghanistan, particularly transit conditions."

In other words, Syria has Iran and Russia’s support. Meanwhile, the U.S. could rely on Israel as its strongest partner in the region in case things get messy. If the U.S. strikes Syria, Israel will undoubtedly become a target for Iran. There's precedent for this sort of thing happening, as one of the ways Iraq retaliated when the U.S. attacked Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War was to fire 39 scud missiles at Israel.

Officially, Iran cannot directly strike U.S. embassies or allies, as that would be seen as an act of war. President Rouhani can say how illegitimate a U.S. military strike on Syria will be, and the country is not likely to do anything more than make threats. Indirectly, however, Iran can call on its supporters in Hezbollah or Iraq to do the work for it, while aiding these militias with Russian arms.

In matters involving chemical weapons or any military strike, diplomacy is usually the best first course of action. Obama hopes to keep the pressure on Syria while making sure Iran does not get involved, similar to Kennedy during the Cuban-Missile Crisis. With Iran and Russia supporting Syria, it is hard to calculate the possible consequences of a military strike. One thing is for sure, though — strike or no strike, the war will get worse.